Do You Have Good Feedback Skills?

There’s a basic tenet of project management that is often overlooked: feedback skills. If you can’t communicate what is wrong or right with a project, you’re not a project manager. You’re just an ineffective leader with no communication skills.

Sorry was that too harsh? It could be considered negative feedback. Lynda Bourne is the managing director of Stakeholder Management Pty Ltd, a business focused on improving the capability of organizations to effectively manage their stakeholder relationships to the benefit of both the stakeholders and the organization’s projects.

In an article she wrote for, she states, “One of the key supervisory skills needed by every leader is the ability to give feedback to their team on individual performance. The reason is simple, if the team don’t know what you expect from them, you are unlikely to get the performance you need.”

Bourne goes onto discuss negative feedback, positive feedback and a mixture of both. She does an excellent job differentiating between feedback and motivation. You may think motivating an employee is the same as feedback. As she points out, “a highly motivated worker producing the ‘wrong thing’ quickly and efficiently has the potential to do more damage than an unmotivated worker producing very little.”

She said good leaders strive for a balanced team that is well motivated. They achieve this by knowing what’s expected of them and then doing it correctly.

Bourne says these are three types of feedback:

Positive reinforcement where you acknowledge good work.
Constructive feedback where you suggest improvement.
Negative feedback where you highlight unacceptable behavior.
Guess which feedback should be rarely used? That would be negative feedback. Bourne says, “The key with this type of feedback is focusing on the behavior not the person – you are dealing with an unacceptable behavior, not an unacceptable person.” Interestingly, that’s been a tenet of my religious beliefs: hate the sin, not the sinner.

An unusual perspective is offered on negative feedback, according to Bourne. She suggests it might make sense to quantify the feedback. What that means is using it sparingly – no more than on a ratio of 5 to 1.

Yet at the same time she says not to bottle in negative feedback. It needs to be delivered immediately. That seems to suggest you can’t stick to strict ratios. Say someone screws up two times. Well, you can’t wait to criticize until the person does something right.

It’s important when giving negative feedback to do it with positive growth in mind. Bourne counsels, “The vast majority of your feedback should either be constructive feedback where you help someone improve or positive feedback where you reinforce desirable behaviors.”

If you can imagine, positive feedback can be a bad thing. As Bourne points out, it needs to be spread evenly among the team members so jealousy doesn’t spread. Of course, this means quantifying your feedback, which strikes me as wrong.

Constructive feedback appears to be the style most desired by project management team members. Bourne cites research that shows “57 percent of people preferred corrective feedback; compared to 43 percent who preferred praise/recognition. But how the feedback is delivered really matters 92 percent of the respondents agreed with the assertion, ‘Negative (redirecting) feedback, if delivered appropriately, is effective at improving performance’.”

Bourne feels it’s important to start feedback with a compliment. She advises, “the key to having your suggestion/criticism listened to is to start with an honest compliment. One of the easiest is simply to say “Thank you for your hard work on this…” and then provide some feedback or even criticism immediately after.”

That runs counter to training I’ve read about. People tend to remember the last thing you said, not the first. My constructive feedback would be to say feedback should end with the compliment and then thank Bourne for her well-crafted advice.

Regardless of the placement of the compliment, I can agree with Bourne’s reasons for including a compliment with the feedback. It ultimately demonstrates you are supportive of a person’s contributions to your team. It doesn’t take much to say something nice.

Comments are closed.